One Dissenting Vote

Greg Diamond Democrat - from a "Rebellious Truths" video

Greg Diamond Democrat – from a “Rebellious Truths” video.

(As I may have mentioned, I’m going into the hospital for hernia surgery this morning and I don’t know when I’ll be back online.  So I’m setting this to be published several hours after I’m supposed to be up and around, even though I expect that I’ll be sleeping steeped in pain medication for much of the day.)

It has recently come to public attention, in a couple of those political blogs that mama told you not to read, that while First Supervisorial District candidate Andrew Do was unanimously endorsed by the OC Republican Party, former State Senator Lou Correa was only “endorsed” by the Democratic Party of Orange County.  That is, the vote to endorse him was not unanimous.  Several people — we don’t know how many — didn’t vote for his being endorsed, but only one actively voted against it — and that was me.

I think that before I go “under the knife,” as it were, I should offer an explanation.

First, one subtle point: The vote before us was not as to whether Lou Correa should be elected.  It was as to whether Lou Correa should receive the official endorsement of the Democratic Party of Orange County for that office.  If there were no other reasonable candidate, I would not have shown up that night to vote, but there was — a “Tom Tait” style Republican that we could not endorse, due to party rules, but that we also did not have to ignore.  I didn’t see much difference ideologically between Lou Correa and Garden Grove Councilman Chris Phan — both are moderates — except that Phan seemed less extremely devoted to the wrong side of some issues that I found obnoxious.  (You can read the interview I did with him to get a better sense of the man.)

In short, Lou Correa was not devoted to supporting issues normally associated with the Democratic Party — and certainly not the progressive wing of it.  (Call it “the Liz Warren wing,” if you wish; for me, it will always be named after Paul Wellstone.)  Not cooperating with the progressive wing of the party is Correa’s own choice to make.   His choice.  The question is whether his making the “anti-Left” choice should, or should not, come with a cost.

That cost was not whether he was going to receive the Democratic endorsement; it was as to whether he was going to receive that endorsement unanimously — without one dissenting vote.

Under the circumstances where Correa has routinely engaged in what some of us at Daily Kos generally call “hippie punching,” fixing a shit-eating grin to one’s face and giving Correa  completely free pass seemed to be a step too far.  It’s one thing to endorse someone; it’s another to act like a terrorized victim pretending to the outside world that there’s nothing wrong.  Sometimes, a statement must be made: that statement is not necessarily “I want Correa to lose,” but “we can’t pretend that this is really uncontroversial and perfectly all right.”

So I voted against his endorsement.  When there was a motion to pass the endorsement by “acclamation” — essentially, telling the world that this was a unanimous vote — I objected to that as well.  (Some people, my sense was that this included the Chair, did not quite get the idea that you can’t have both a split vote and acclamation;  I had to explain to the body the concept of what a dissenting vote means more than once.

The process of considering the endorsement was, how shall I say this, a bit rushed.  As the only one of the speakers to oppose endorsing Correa out loud, I had been given 60 seconds, total, to make a speech explaining my opposition to nominating him.  This was, of course, impossible  — I got the boldfaced heading below out and little more.

Here’s what I said: Lou Correa shoudn’t receive the Democratic endorsement for this position because he had:

1) Betrayed Dr. Jose Moreno in his City Council campaign

Bringing longtime independent into the Democratic Party Dr. Marino was a big “get” this year for the DPOC; it came about as a result of the leadership that we had shown in the fight for real district elections in Anaheim — a fight led by party activists like Jeff LeTourneau, Gloria Alvarado, Carina Franck-Pantone, and , if I may say so, myself.  As I wrote a long time ago, activating the Latino communities in North, Central, South, and West Anaheim is a major key to promoting both the Democratic Party and its liberal wing throughout the county.  And I was very proud that this “man of the people” had become the Democratic party’s endorsed candidate in the Anaheim city council election.  Sure, given how hard we had worked to integrate Dr. Moreno and his following into the party, that would be respected, right?

Alas, not so fast.  Correa had, I’m told, given Moreno his endorsement — and I was impressed; maybe change really was in the air.  (Moreno wouldn’t have the money to get the message out, as Correa surely knew, but it was still a good gesture on Correa’s part.  Then he undermined it — one could even say undid it — and more.)

The weekend before the election, the best time to reach Latino voters (who tend to vote in person rather than by mail), a flyer was mailed out out to Democratic voters, who were likely looking for more guidance from local Democratic officials about who to support for city Council.  That flyer featured Jordan Brandman flat-out endorsing Moreno’s “Pringle Ring” opponents Gail Eastman and Kris Murray. Correa had some very positive things about their uncompromising pro-police positions in support of the police — a highly charged issue in the Latino communities where people accuse police of shooting young Latino men without justification, with impunity, and (in at least one high-profile case) of planting a gun near the dead youth’s body to justify the use of deadly force.

I realize that we don’t expect Democratic politicians to take positions as radical as many activists about excessive use of force by police — but I sure didn’t expect the exact opposite from Correa — something that flew in the face of what the DPOC (well, at least parts o the DPOC, was trying to do.  I don’t know exactly how much this flyer helps the two Republican women and harmed Dr. Moreno — but it clearly went against the intended direction of the Democratic Party and undercut it’s strategy with Latino voters.  It was a slap in the face to the Left.  It was not, in my opinion, the sort of thing that one wanted to reward uncritically.

2) Abandoned Bao Nguyen
While incumbent mayor Broadwater was a Democrat, he was widely understood in the past election to be the candidate of the Republican Party.  Bao, by contrast, was the endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party.  And so far as I have heard, he did not receive Correa’s endorsement — nor any help of any substance of the race.  In other words, Correa did not take the opportunity to support a rising star within the liberal reformist wing one the Democratic Party, one who again could reach out effectively to younger and Reformist voters.

3) Betrayed Dave Jones / Prop 46

(I’ve written about this before, but it’s been a while.)  Proposition 46, which would have given the Insurance Commissioner the ability to block unjustified increases in the costs of health insurance premiums, should not have even had to come to the ballots.  The current (and newly reelected Insurance Commissioner, Dave Jones, had sent the bill to the legislature more than once when he was a member — during the Schwarzenegger Administration and then again during the Brown Administration.  When Arnold was the Governor, Correa supported the bill — and easy vote given that Arnold was sure to veto it.  When Jerry Brown was elected governor, and was considered likely to sign such a bill, Correa — who has received substantial funding from medical insurers, doctors, and hospitals — switched to opposition to the bill.  (This was in the form of an abstention, but those of him and several similarly situated colleagues were enough to kill it.)  Typifying the stereotype that many have of democratic officeholders, he had wanted to take a safe progressive only so long as it would not irritate his donors by turning into an actual progressive policy.  That makes it really hard to get people activated.  And this was a critical bill — people die for lack of decent medical coverage.

4) Belittled and helped to scuttle statewide single-payer — with an extraordinary explanation

When a bill for statewide single-payer health insurance came to the legislature and early 2013 — a relatively popular democratic position in California both for its simplicity and its likely cost savings — Correa was among those who led the charge against it.  He said that the high cost of medical care was not a priority in his district – despite the large number of uninsured there.  This is the sort of thing that both the smarter (“your party’s no better than mine”) Republicans and the raucous Lefts like to site to show that Democrats ain’t worth crap.  Again — did we want to endorse the author of such a statement unanimously, or was there room — even demand — for a symbolic protest?

5) Major support for private prisons

To me, Correa’s uncritical support for police — “my police force, right or wrong!” — is troubling, but is not all that unusual.  I think that voters in poorer communities may not like it, but they understand it.  What they don’t understand is why Correa has been a strong supporter of the prison guards lobby — especially when it comes to support for private prisons, which need a constant influx of new inmates to maintain their profitability, whether or not it actually makes logical sense to send them to prison —  not to mention whether it makes fiscal sense.  I understand why the Building Trades what to build things regardless of whether the public really needs it; I tend to disagree with them in most such cases — largely because I think that there are other untried options, but I do get the logic of it.  That sort of philosophy becomes far more heinous when we’re not just talking about building a train station or expanding a convention center, but literally taking people away from their families and putting them in children even if that is not the best policy alternative for reducing crime just because it creates more jobs for more prison guards.  That is simply morally wrong.  The excuse for many of the DPOC members voting on the endorsement is that they probably had no idea that this sort of thing goes one — but while that is an excuse, it is also a lousy excuse if you wand to see people do their due diligence as party members.

6) Alienating Latinos and Sympathetic Liberals

Voters are not vending machines; a party can’t expect to stick 75 cents for a mailer into their house and expect a vote to come out.  For a significant size of the electorate — particularly those to whom other people come for advice and who actually do activate others enough to vote rather than slack off — the sorts of positions you see above really do matter.  Correa has been an elected leader in Latino areas of the County for a long time — and those areas have lousy turnout.  If it were Joe Dunn, Julio Perez, Dr. Moreno, and some similar others in power, it stands to reason that we might already have the higher Latino voter participation that has been predicted for the future.  Lou Correa is Latino, but is he bringing out Latinos?  It will be interesting to compare how Correa and Phan (who has a lot of Latino allies in Garden Grove) perform in Latino districts.  If in Latino districts a Vietnamese Republican who seems likely to listen to the community can outpoll a Latino Democrat who, ahem, perhaps doesn’t, then the folly of blindly following Correa without making ideological demands on him will be fully apparent.  As a Democrat, even one who likes Phan personally, it just kills me that the person who figures out how to unlock the Latino vote may be a Republican.  That would be a level of failure almost beyond imagining.

7) “Stabbing Labor in the Front”

Former Orange County Labor Federation head Tefere Gebre used to have a hilarious line contrasting Lou Correa favorable to another local politician who he considered a double-dealer and double-crosser.  I’m going to clean it up a bit and tell it this way: This other politician would regularly speak nice to Labor’s face and then stab Labor in the back, while Lou was good enough to tell Labor exactly what he thought and “stab labor in the front.”  I can see the merit and well as the humor in that argument, but let’s keep something in mind: wouldn’t it be better to have a candidate who would not stab Labor at all?  This doesn’t mean always agreeing with Labor; it means agreeing with Labor on “existential issues,” working to enforce workplace safety and wage laws, and looking kindly on Labor’s reasonable proposals.  (They’re not all reasonable.  They’re not supposed to be.  If they were, then Labor would get kicked around just like an attorney whose initial demand is only exactly the amount that he or she thinks they are able to get.  It’s not a problem to let one’s reach exceed one’s grasp; it’ a problem when that becomes more than a negotiating tactic.)  If you look at Chris Phan’s description of what he’d do regarding Labor, it seems pretty reasonable — and, frankly, by being reasonable seems more likely to lead to useful consensus on the Board that someone who sells himself as an “agent of Labor” (even though he really isn’t.)

8) He Won’t Stick Around in Office

Phan argues in his OJB interview that Correa won’t stick around in office when a new office — like, oh, say, Congress or Attorney General — opens up.  (After all, Lou did it before in 2006.)  This bothers me less than it does Phan; it’s pretty much an occupation hazard of voting.  Yes, Phan says that he’d stay put, but if Correa won’t make the same commitment — or if he will, but won’t really mean it — well, such things happen.

It does affect whether he warrants an endorsement, though.  The main reason that so many in DC are willing to endorse Correa uncritically is that it ends the humiliation that Democrats have felt since Tom Umberg lost the race to Janet Nguyen and another Nguyen in early 2007.  Now there would be a Democrat on the Board of Supervisors again!!! — for all that one vote from a non-Chair matters.  But if he’s likely to move on, then that advantage will be short-lived.

With respect — and I do very much respect many of the people who chose to vote to endorse Correa — I don’t think that it’s right to be motivated to support Correa to prove that we aren’t screwing up.  If what we’re doing in the Latino areas of the county does stink, then air freshener only hides the problem.   We need to work with people like Moreno, like Perez, like Alvarado — like Eric Altman, who led the “Yes on L and M” campaigns to a stunning (in the case of L) victory in Anaheim — to figure out how we can be different in a way that activates the Latino community, that gives us a stake in what we’re doing.  We were, I believe, well on the way to doing so before DPOC Chair Henry Vandermier fired LeTourneau as head of the DPOC’s Resolutions Committee — more activist than the rest of the party put together in 2013 — and replaced him with the connected, cautious, and conservative on non-Labor issues Ray Cordova, under whom the committee has stalled.

If we are doing a lousy job in these communities — and in 2014, I think, we have been, especially given the weaker-than-should-have-been support for Dr. Moreno outside DPOC’s own meetings (which sadly is too large a portion of what many DPOC members perceive of their organization — we should not be papering it over.  If we do, we will keep on not doing better in our Latino communities.

9) Should Correa Become Loretta’s “Heir Apparent” if she does run for U.S. Senate?

This last reason, following from the previous one, is truly “realpolitik” — and I fear that it is the fundamental reason that ranks have closed so decisively behind Lou Correa — especially among the “Business Democrat” portion of the party.  Monday’s vote was, in part, the first indication of who we might see as the successor to Loretta Sanchez if she moves on, for example by running for the U.S. Senate seat that Barbara Boxer now seems likely to abandon.

Loretta Sanchez’s seat is the “big prize” on which many people have set their eyes in the medium to long term — or, sometimes it seems, in the short term as well.  Loretta gave everyone something to think about when she said over the weekend that she would certainly consider running for Boxer’s seat if she retired.  (Good politics on Loretta’s part.  Keep her name out there and head someone like Anthony Villaraigosa off at the pass.)

The “Business Democrat” faction of the party — which, let’s get something straight, I do like much more than the Business Republican sector of that party, although the Reform Republican faction also has much to recommend it — would love to see someone like Correa, or Jose Solorio, or Miguel Pulido, or Tom Daly, or Jordan Brandman — take over Loretta seat.  I have had my differences with Loretta, but by and large I respect her very much.  The shots at her smarts seem like juvenile sexism; her weakness is more that she tends to shoot from the hip, but that is also part of her charm (to which I realize that my Republican friends are immune.)  Any of those names would be a substantial step down.

The sorts of names I’d like to see would be a Julio Perez, Jose Moreno, Joe Dunn — but Dunn is unlikely to run and the others (thanks in part to being hamstrung by the dominant faction in our party) haven’t been able to get the elected job experience they’d need to make such a leap — and they would also probably be more vulnerable ideologically in CA-46.  In between these groups are several others — Sharon Quirk-Silva, Bao Nguyen (in a few years), and some others — who can show both the moderation and the resume that it would take to win, especially if the Latino areas in the district can be better activated.

This, I’m afraid, is that the battle whose first shot was fired on Monday night is really about in the long term.  My sense is that the Business Democratic wing of the DPOC is so far ahead of most of its Left wing that it’s like they’re not even playing in the same league.  In my 60 seconds, I got to this point near the end, in what seemed like maybe three seconds — and there’s a slight chance that that simply was not enough time to make the point clearly enough.  But here’s how I see it: if Correa becomes Supervisor, he becomes the overriding and maybe even preemptive favorite, at least among Democrats, to succeed Loretta.  That gives me pause — and I think that it should have given more other reformers within the party more pause than it did Monday night.

The guiding principle in “issue activist” politics is that you don’t necessarily need to get the best possible person out of each district; but you want to get the best person that you can get.  (Hence my support for Quirk-Silva, whom I like personally but with whom I have some huge and persistent policy differences — because she’s smart, she’s usually open to reason, and in many races that likely makes her “the best that we can get.”)  Lou Correa is not “the best that we can get” out of CA-46; except for his presumed vote for a Democratic Speaker of the House, I really do wonder whether he’d be any better than the perhaps slightly more conservative but far more open-minded Chris Phan.

DPOC Leaders, from the Party Chair on down, love to talk the “progressive” game and go out of the way to attend progressive meetings and events — which softens the blow for some, I suppose — but then they generally end up with “but gee, shucks, we can’t alienate our donors” that (rightly or not) puts an end to most ideological arguments.  We progressive reformers need to be stronger, more demanding, and less obsequious.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One last point: I’m not supposed to talk smack about Lou Correa now that he’s endorsed — actually, I may be able to do so as an ex officio member, but I really don’t trust the current party leadership to fairly interpret and enforce the rules — but given that no one else in the room but me opposed him I have to presume that what I say above is not talking smack.  Apparently, this is the track record that got him endorsed by the Democratic Party with only one — my — dissenting vote; it stands to reason that all of the above must be good, and that by recounting it again here I am in fact offering him support.  Right?

Some very good people in the Democratic Party voted to endorse Lou Correa on Monday night, as well as some for whom I’ve lost more respect this year than I’d have thought possible a year ago.  (I still haven’t written much about that, and still don’t know whether I will.)  But the principle at hand was not whether Correa — for all of the things he’s done that gall me and many others — would be endorsed; it was whether he would be endorsed without one dissenting vote.

I care very much about my local party; I’ve put a lot of time into supporting it.  And what it needed Monday night, in my opinion — to be able to face itself in the mirror in the years to come, without feeling like my faction was just a bunch of dupes placed on a hamster wheel to run ourselves to fatigue without ever getting anywhere — was at least that one dissenting vote.  People will need to remember, in the years to come, that Lou Correa’s record of turning his back on Democratic solidarity really did cost him something — a small thing, to be sure, but something.

Like Dick Cheney said about his support for torture — the polar opposite of the principled stand I’m trying to take and explain here — I would do it all over again.  Whatever the personal price to me may be, it’s one that I have to be willing to pay, because in the long term one dissenting vote can be that important.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)